About Craig Barnes

Craig Barnes is an advertising industry veteran having owned and operated an agency for almost 30 years; including three offices across two states. Still operating an agency, his second act (and everyone should have one) brings him to Agency Management Institute (AMI) where he puts his collective experiences to work helping other agency owners improve their people, processes and profitability.

Well Defined Systems and Clear Expectations – A Winning Formula

Recently, I was listening to an interview with Craig Berube, coach of the St. Louis Blues hockey team. The interview covered how they've been able to stay very competitive and lead their division while enduring the absence of their most productive player, who underwent shoulder surgery in October. He said two things. “We have a well-defined system based on a high level of competition and our players have a clear understanding of their roles.” That resonated with me as I thought about how that applies to managing our agency teams. The fact that the club has a solid system of play enables them to identify the types of players who can thrive under the stress. And it gives each member of the squad an opportunity for success by following the system’s specs – which is a “North/South” approach with aggressive forechecking.  No worries if you don’t understand hockey terms – just know that every player understands what’s expected of them. Berube shared a story of talking with a young player who was having a bit of difficulty gaining success in the system because he hadn’t fully bought into it. His message to him was, “Look, you're a really talented player who belongs in the NHL. But here's the deal. You have to play within the system we have, or you'll just have to play for a different team.”  That’s a very clear message.  As agency owners we often fail in being clear with our teams about expectations. And think about how much easier it would be if our systems were well-defined. What if we provided a road map for team members to follow and meet those expectations? Why is it that we sometimes struggle with [...]

Your Clients Need To Hear From You – Occasionally

How many times, as an agency owner, have you been advised to stay out of the day-to-day of client work? Probably more than once. Scaling an agency requires owners to hire the right people, provide appropriate levels of leadership and then get out of the way to allow their team to do what they were hired to do – manage and grow client relationships. But that doesn’t mean you should be some mysterious figure to your clients; never to be seen or heard from again after you win the business.  It’s surprising how often that happens – not necessarily by design, but suddenly you may realize you can’t remember the last time you had any contact with your clients. I get it, you’re busy running the shop, chasing down new opportunities, handling a myriad of things that seem to take up more time than they should. It’s easy to lose visibility with those who signed on to have your agency help them meet their marketing challenges. Hopefully, you have rockstar account managers who are delighting clients and working with the rest of the team to deliver results that matter. And while that’s fantastic, always remember it’s your agency that’s delivering - you’ve set forth a clear vision and built an enterprise that’s sought after because of that vision. And that’s why you need to show your face occasionally to those who have placed their trust in the agency. They need to realize the agency is more than just that rockstar account manager … it’s an entire team of smart, marketing specialists creating results. And you need to make sure they know you care and appreciate the opportunity they’ve given the agency. I know, you’re wondering [...]

Understanding Client Satisfaction: It Depends On Who’s Asking The Questions

How often have you recommended to a client that they conduct research among their own customers to gauge overall satisfaction and uncover what they value about the relationship to your client’s company or brand? You’re astute enough to know that armed with customer satisfaction data, you can more knowledgeably guide that client in everything from customer acquisition to integration of sales and marketing to customer retention. Now, how often have you thought about the need to understand the satisfaction of your agency’s clients? The fact is agencies tend to avoid client satisfaction surveys for two reasons: We’re either afraid to ask the big questions for fear we might hear something we don’t like, or we assume everything is good because they are still with us. Both ways of thinking can lead to missing an opportunity to fine-tune your relationship with your clients, or more importantly heading off an impending disaster. As an agency owner, you shouldn’t be involved in every detail of what’s happening between your clients and your agency. But, that doesn’t mean you should operate within a vacuum either. If you have an established “one-on-one” meeting process in place between you and your direct reports, and those direct reports have the same established with staff members they manage, then you should have a general awareness of what’s happening with clients. Your responsibility is to ensure that the management of client relationships is carried out in a manner consistent with the agency’s core values and service philosophy. There may be periods of time when that’s not happening, resulting in a slow erosion of confidence between the client and the agency. Simple ways to gauge client satisfaction That’s why it’s smart to periodically engage your [...]

Sharing Agency Performance Goals—It Changes Everything

If you’re operating your agency with the goal of achieving the performance metrics of 55/25/20 recommended by the AMI, it’s easy to see in any given month just how well the agency is performing. Those three numbers should be the basis to guide your decisions on everything from personnel to pencils. Setting goals is great, sharing agency performance goals though, that has the power to change everything. One of the most important questions agency owners should be asking themselves is a simple one: How many of your agency staffers understand or are even aware of those numbers and how they drive a healthy, sustainable enterprise? Is it just a few—perhaps your finance person and your number one key executive? That’s the most common answer, and it’s also a big mistake. As an owner, if you’re hesitant to educate everyone in the agency about the numbers, you’re literally managing with one hand tied behind your back. Here’s how sharing agency performance goals changes everything, empowers your team, and sets an exciting path for the future. Sharing Agency Performance Goals—Financial Transparency Fuels a Growth Mindset In coaching sessions I have with agency owners, one of the first things I want to uncover is the owner’s comfort level with financial transparency. If the owner is new to AMI, I’ll take them though the metric; 55 percent of adjusted gross income (AGI) is the target for the agency’s fully loaded compensation, 25 percent utilized for overhead, and 20 percent profit. For those who already know the formula, I work to understand just how deep this foundational knowledge runs throughout the agency. As an agency owner for 30+ years, I get the hesitancy about “opening the kimono.” A common concern [...]

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